You are here

Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 9, 2019

Virginia Doctor Convicted on 861 Federal Counts of Drug Distribution, Including Distribution Resulting in Death: Faces Mandatory Minimum of 20 Years in Federal Prison

Dr. Joel Smithers Illegally Prescribed Schedule II Narcotics

Abingdon, VIRGINIA – Joel Smithers, a Martinsville-based doctor, was found guilty today of 861 federal drug charges at the conclusion of a nine-day jury trial in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced.

The jury convicted Smithers, 36, after seven hours of deliberation, on one count of maintaining a place for the purpose of illegally distributing controlled substances, one count of possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances, and 859 counts of illegally prescribing Schedule II controlled substances.  The jury also found that the oxycodone and oxymorphone Smithers prescribed to a woman from West Virginia caused her death.

“This defendant not only violated his Hippocratic Oath to his patients, but he perpetuated, on a massive scale, the vicious cycle of addiction, despair, and destruction,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today.  “We have no higher priority than investigating drug-dealing physicians and other corrupt health-care practitioners and putting them in federal prison.” 

“The actions of corrupt physicians who prescribe medically unnecessary drugs contribute to our nation’s ongoing opioid crisis and threaten the health of Americans. The human cost of these crimes is unacceptable,” said Maureen R. Dixon, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold criminals accountable for their actions.”

“ This is a prime example of why the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squads were formed throughout the nation,” said Jesse Fong Special Agent In Charge of the Washington Division Office. “Dr. Smithers flooded Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio with his opioid prescriptions and hid behind his white doctor’s coat as a large scaled drug dealer. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tactical Diversion Squads will relentlessly investigate and arrest these drug dealers disguised as doctors.”

Evidence presented at trial showed Smithers opened an office in Martinsville in August 2015, and prescribed controlled substances to every patient in his practice, resulting in over 500,000 Schedule II controlled substances being distributed.  The drugs involved included oxymorphone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl.  A majority of those receiving prescriptions from Smithers traveled hundreds of miles, one-way, to receive the drugs. Smithers did not accept insurance and took in over $700,000 in cash and credit card payments prior to a search warrant being executed at his office on March 7, 2017.

United States District Court Judge James P. Jones ordered Smithers taken into custody pending sentencing.  Sentencing is scheduled for August 16 at 10:00 a.m. in Abingdon.  Smithers faces a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment for a term of twenty years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.  He also faces a maximum fine of more than $200 million dollars. 

The case was investigated by the Roanoke offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tactical Diversion Squad and the Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General.  Task force officers with the police departments of Bristol, Martinsville, Buena Vista, Roanoke, and Roanoke County; the Sheriff’s Offices of Henry County and Pittsylvania County; and the Virginia State Police assisted in the investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Cagle Juhan, Randy Ramseyer and Zachary T. Lee prosecuted the case for the United States.

Topic(s): 
Opioids
Updated May 13, 2019